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Caretaker of Memories

California’s 314 mile section of Route 66 is home to some of the old road’s most vivid scenery and unique attractions. There is something about the moody desert atmosphere, with its numerous fading ghost towns and lost in time venues, that leaves a deep etch in the heart of intrepid travelers. Every dilapidated structure seems to have its own story, and it is not difficult if one closes their eyes and listens carefully, to hear the ghosts of yesterday. The desert has a way of opening the mind and nudging the spirit. Yet, perhaps even more memorable and captivating are the people of California’s Route 66. In many cases, true to Old West stereotypes, these are pioneers and dreamers, each with a destiny to fulfill and a heavy helping of true grit. And as on cue, Albert Okura comes on to the stage, a man with his own vision, and California’s Route 66 will never be the same.

Describing himself as a proud second-generation Californian, Albert Okura was born in 1951 to Tsuyoshi and Chiyoko Okura, first-generation Japanese-Americans who experienced the consequences and effects of war first-hand, when Chiyoko was placed in the Manzanar internment camp during WWII, while Tsuyoshi, a US soldier, was not. Even though this must have been a trying time for the Okura family, Albert Okura remembers little, if any, negative influence that this period may have had on him or his siblings. Okura’s parents were determined to make a life for them and their four children in America, and demonstrated their loyalty and allegiance for America wholeheartedly, sharing very little, to no mention, of any ill-treatment or injustices that they may have suffered during the war. “My parents, along with all my aunts and uncles, rarely talked about the war with us,” Okura shares. “I don’t recall either parent ever complaining about the government policies that sent them to camps, even though everyone knew that it was wrong. I do remember my mother being very proud that no Japanese-American was ever convicted as a spy for Japan.”


Growing up in California during the ‘50s, Okura, the second of four children, had a “typically American” childhood, full of baseball and basketball, and television shows like The Lone Ranger, Superman, and Leave It to Beaver. “It was a much simpler time,” recollects Okura. “There was no social media, no cell phones, no online gaming, no modern conveniences. I think it was a pretty good childhood. We played little league baseball and basketball and [watched] black and white TV with all the corny shows. And even though we did not have a lot of money, prices were very reasonable. Going to Disneyland was only $6. Visiting national parks such as Yosemite was free.”

But it was his parents’ attitude to overcoming adversity during the war and their positivity in embracing the American way of life that made the biggest impression on young Albert Okura. “[It] allowed me to grow up believing in the American dream, which to me means coming to America, working hard, making money, raising a family, and assimilating into a free society where all this becomes possible. Looking back, I had something inside me that shouted ‘entrepreneur’, but my parents did not understand me. My mother wanted me to go to school and become a dentist, but the only problem was that I wasn’t smart enough, and I didn’t like the sitting still all day. Very few of the Japanese-Americans of my generation became entrepreneurs, so I had no role models for business from family members or relatives.”


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